- Tricycle Day
- Psychonaut POV
[6-min read] Q&A with East Forest, Musician & Ceremonialist
Welcome to Tricycle Day. Should auld acquaintance be forgot… don’t worry. A lil' neuroplasticity boost and you’ll remember. Happy new year, Cyclists! 🥳
East Forest, aka Krishna Trevor Oswalt, first started making music to integrate his own mushroom journeys. Back then, he never dreamed he’d end up working with one of his heroes, Ram Dass.
We asked Krishna about his uniquely psychedelic creative process, what music and psychedelics have in common, and how anyone can bring ceremony into their life in the new year.
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Your music has helped millions of listeners drop into deep, introspective journeys. Can you share how your experiences with psychedelics have shaped your creative process?
My music was birthed out of two needs: guiding psychedelic experiences and filling a gap in modern music tailored specifically for mushroom journeys. Initially, I started making this music for myself. Eventually, I was invited to perform live for private circles in psilocybin ceremonies. As interest expanded, I began working with Ram Dass. Without the mushrooms, my music would have never gone in this direction.
There are a lot of ways I integrate insights from my psychedelic experiences into my music, but the most important one is that I record and improvise within ceremonies. The albums I create for this purpose, like Music for Mushrooms or In, are bespoke, long-form musical pieces. That’s entirely different from the typical playlists, where various artists' works are repurposed for "medicine work." Recording within the ceremony, where I can react in real-time, allows something spontaneous and possibly more meaningful to manifest musically.
In a traditional concert, you’re the center of attention and expected to keep the audience entertained throughout the whole performance. These intimate ceremonies, on the other hand, usually consist of around 20 people lying down in a darkened room for several hours. Sure, the music is important, but they’re truly immersed in their own inner experience. So the ceremony environment allows for a different kind of musical exploration; it’s a free-form creative journey that unfolds naturally. I think of it as a kind of collaboration between the audience, the music, and the psilocybin experience.
I’m grateful for my live audiences and their vulnerability. Their presence has nurtured my creative process and created a special space where my signature sound could evolve over the years.
What do you mean when you describe music as a connective narrative? Do music and psychedelics share that quality?
Music, psychedelic or not, acts as a bridge between our physical world and the ineffable, non-dimensional aspects of our existence. Yet it’s wholly made from this dimension, from rhythm and tones. We can hit two physical objects together, and somehow that opens us up to a sense of emotional and psychic understanding beyond what our senses can perceive. It's like a translator revealing the unseen; all art is. Music, though, seems to be exceptionally capable of awakening those latent parts of ourselves.
Music isn’t the only thing that can emotionally transport us in this way. Humor and creativity also fall into this category. They’re gifts that connect us to a deeper understanding of one another and add richness to our experiences. Psychedelics can transport us, too, all on their own. But I believe the interplay between music and psychedelics is a severely under-discussed and fundamental aspect of the psychedelic experience. It’s a real blind spot in the broader conversation around psychedelics.
If we’re honest about the state of the world, this is an emergency. Change is desperately needed, and it may take powerful tools like psychedelics to help us shift. Considering the inaccessibility of therapy and the shortage of providers, music designed for these purposes could be a much more scalable option. Music helps to create a safe container for people to journey into these spaces positively, hopefully preventing traumatic experiences.
So yes, I do see music and psychedelics sharing certainly intangible qualities. Perhaps more to the point, there’s a synergy when you combine the two that’s being overlooked. Embracing music as a therapeutic tool would revolutionize our access to transformative experiences. Therapists and guides certainly have their place, but in some cases, the music may be all you need. In many indigenous traditions, song has been the sole ceremonial guide for centuries.
Ram Dass played a major role in your life, even giving you the name Krishna. Can you tell us more about your relationship with him and how it impacted your journey as a musician and spiritual seeker?
It had a profound impact on my life. He was a teacher I admired, and when I finally met and worked with him, it was an honor. He imparted invaluable lessons just through his presence. Witnessing someone dedicated to a particular way of life embody it so authentically was humbling and inspiring. It showed me that anyone can live that way, no special knowledge required. Feeling his loving awareness was enlightening in the truest sense of the word.
Musically, it's been incredible to share his wisdom with audiences through live performances. It's like being an ambassador for his teachings. Introducing his words to new people is the most enjoyable part because that’s when the teachings feel most alive. Some of his songs are in constant rotation in my live set, even as I reinvent them and set his words to new music.
Collaborating on our album was an experience I’ll never forget. We recorded together for a week in Maui. While I primarily handled the production, his enthusiasm for the first six songs we released was infectious. He was eager to get them out there and support the project. I performed at the Ram Dass retreat shortly before his passing. For those last two years of his life, his health was frail. He became mostly nonverbal after our recording sessions, which turned out to be among his last teachings.
One significant moment was when they played him one of the songs in Hawaii, "I am Loving Awareness." It was the first time he heard his old friend Krishna Das on a track, and their connection was special. In one part of the song where Ram Dass talks about opening your heart, Krishna Das responds with "ram, ram, ram." It wasn't planned, but it felt like a poignant moment of brotherhood that deeply touched him.
You’ve also said that your work is a contribution to a spiritual cause. How do you hope your music impacts those who engage with it?
I hope it resonates with others in the same way it does with me. Through music, I seek connection to something beyond the surface of our daily lives. I crave that vastness, that feeling of being part of something larger. Emotional music celebrates the human spirit. It offers solace and reminders of these feelings. Playing and writing this music nurtures those emotions within me, and perhaps listeners find similar resonance.
For me, engaging sincerely with music is a real and viable path to changing the way we interact in the external world. My personal mission with this music is to help people connect with their inner strength and resilience. Life often pushes us in ways that transform us. The hardships we face can become overwhelming, and I sense we need more inner fortitude for the challenges ahead. The pandemic was just one; more tests are coming. We need groundedness to survive the chaos. The last thing we need is more polarization, tribalism, and self-delusion. I don’t have all the answers, but this music is my small offering to the pot. I hope it helps people navigate the turbulence.
As we approach the new year, how do you suggest our readers bring elements of ceremony into their personal rituals to mark important transitions in their lives?
Two things come to mind. The first is to make the space to be spoken to. The subtler voices are always there, but normally they’re drowned out by the noise of our busy lives. If we don’t take breaks from our constant activity and digital distractions, we never learn to pick up on those messages. Taking a few minutes to tune into these subtle whispers prevents them from building up into louder signals. Music can be a simple way to carve out that space. Whether it's listening to a favorite song or creating your own melody, it becomes an intentional act. That’s a ceremony.
The only other suggestion I’d make is to think about what you can give in that moment. Consider what you can offer, not necessarily to others but to yourself or the universe. It could be as simple as setting up a designated spot in your space—an altar of sorts, representing something sacred or special. Placing a physical object or writing down a phrase, positive or negative, symbolizes the act of giving. There’s a reciprocal relationship there between creating the space to listen and offering something in return.
Even if it's just five minutes or the duration of a song, this little practice becomes a meditation. It’s a moment to set everything else aside, knowing you can get back to it later. In this present moment, as Ram Dass would say, you can simply ‘be here now.'
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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.